The Atrium in Makati, BlackBerry, and other past things

Inside an old building in Makati City is a BlackBerry service center: a dose of overthinking revealed its subtle irony to me.

The space inside The Atrium in Makati City, its own atrium, is cavernous.
The Atrium in Makati City.

The Atrium in Makati City is a quaint, dry and dusty building. It sits on Makati Avenue, across from the Ayala Triangle, and right beside the tall, solid glass wall of the Zuellig Building. Although both are unmistakably commercial edifices, being located centrally in one of Manila’s business districts, there is a striking contrast between the two structures’ appearances. One speaks of modernity, and admirable is the manner by which it blends with the sky. Viewed from a distance, on overcast days with a uniform gray sky, the Zuellig nearly disappears behind the reflection on its mirror-like exterior, and if one had poor vision she might not see it at all while gazing at Makati’s skyline. The other building, meanwhile, is from an older era. The Atrium is more at home with the utilitarian offices like those which house SGV & Co. and National Life Insurance on Ayala Avenue; its architecture belongs to that style which still dominates Legazpi Village and the many roads that feed into Ayala and Buendia. But not on Makati Avenue itself—here the ultra-modern reigns over all. Here, steel and glass captures all attention, turns all heads, and leaves nothing for the quaint, the dry and the dusty.

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Just enough technology

When it comes to purchasing pieces of technology, my philosophy is to choose the product that provides just enough capability. The laptop my parents bought for me in college was a netbook—I could have asked for something with a larger screen, or a more powerful processor, or a more generous hard disk, but I knew that school work rarely asked more of computers than basic word processing. When tablets became popular and the iPad mini came out, I still chose to get the Nexus 7, which was a lesser package in perhaps all aspects except two, where it mattered for me: price and display quality (should be of high resolution and color accuracy).

Yet when I was presented the opportunity to choose just about any phone I could have (as a gift), I swallowed all semblances of consumerist guilt and picked the glamorous iPhone. I rationalized it by thinking, hopefully objectively, that it truly was the best-in-class in the product attributes I cared about.

In particular, I was enchanted by the device’s camera module. Until I had the phone, I had stubbornly kept on using a sturdy six-year-old Sony digicam, and I did not mind that it was not ‘cool’, so long as I was able to take ‘proper’ photos. Little did I know that technology had advanced faster than I thought, and in six years’ time a tiny camera module in the corner of a slim, shiny block of a phone had already outclassed a dedicated device more than twice its size.

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Elon Musk and humanity

Recently I’ve been reading about Elon Musk, a man most easily introduced (and admired) by the qualities he shares with the fictional celebrity Iron Man/Tony Stark: he’s a billionaire, he’s a technological genius, and he has a vision of saving humanity. The first two aspects place him securely in the same league as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs; but the magnitude of his dreams sets him apart, raises him into the realm of larger-than-life.

The story alone of how he made his wealth is enough material for a fascinating biography. At age twelve, in the eighties, he programmed his own computer game and sold it to a magazine for a profit. After earning degrees in economics and physics and being admitted to Stanford University, he pursued entrepreneurship and rode the dot-com wave. The second company he founded eventually became PayPal.

PayPal was bought by eBay in 2002, and this is the point of his life I’d like to frame as the turning point. Bill Gates started and ended his career with computers and software, taking up philanthropy only in his retirement. Steve Jobs arguably went further, inventing new product categories and transforming consumer tech industries before his premature death. And Elon Musk could have continued doing similar work—after eBay bought PayPal, he could have started searching for the next Internet-enabled commercial breakthrough, the next useful, popular, satisfying product. But he had grander plans. Instead of simply creating what will benefit us here and now, he looked forward to the future, and founded SpaceX.

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Compact discs

A large skull partly made of recycled CDs on display in front of Albert Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City
A skull of CDs in front of the Archaeological Studies Program building (Albert Hall) in UP Diliman. Probably created for the 2014 UP Lantern Parade.

Some time ago, Sandwich shared an article entitled “When CDs Were Precious Objects” on their Facebook page with the caption “A younger generation’s Betamax.” It made me wax nostalgic about my own relationship with these shiny, delicate discs.

About a decade ago when I was a high school freshman, a band called Hale was terribly popular and one of my classmates received a copy of their debut album as a birthday gift. I liked “The Day You Said Goodnight” so I was curious about the entire album—and when I learned that my classmate already had a copy of the CD, I bugged him all day to donate the extra one to me, which he did.

Why didn’t you just download the music, kids these days might ask. Because 56-kbps dial-up was all I had then for an Internet connection, and downloading an entire album’s worth of high-quality audio was an all-week, all-night affair. (And it cost 100 pesos per 20 hours.) Besides, Hale’s album is a beautiful artifact. Its album sleeve is a work of art—full of sepia photography alternating with lyrics written in fine calligraphy on translucent paper. A few months later at a gig in Siena College, I was able to get that album signed by Hale themselves, and they wrote the email address for their Yahoo! Groups site on the cover.

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